Voting is a method by which groups of people make decisions. In most countries, citizens have the right to vote to elect officials, select candidates for office, and decide on ballot questions. They can also just approve or reject laws by elections called referendums. Suffrage, the right to vote, is a political institution dating from ancient times. In most countries, it was required for the citizens to somehow participate in the government of their city. Today, most of the people that want to participate in voting have the right to vote, but before the Amendments, very few people were given the right to have a voice in selecting its leaders.
The U.S. Constitution, written in 1787, gave voting right to “the people.” However, as defined by the Constitution, the people meant only citizens eligible to vote in a state’s election. With this rule, only 6 percent of adult men and women were eligible to vote in the first presidential election in 1789.The reason for that small number was that most states limited voting to men that were 21 years of age or older who owned a certain amount of property. Restrictions on who could vote, however, gradually were reduced during the 1800s.
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Since the 1800’s, democratic nations have decided to extend suffrage to many people. Two major groups in America that didn’t have the right to vote until late 1800’s and early 1900’s were women and Black Americans. The public always underrepresented them and the white men were always considered better. Even though the 13th and 14th Amendments gave Black Americans freedom, they still did not have the right to vote until the 15th Amendment that was passed in 1870. Even after this Amendment, Black Americans were still discriminated and denied voting rights through literacy tests to keep African Americans from registering, which was a system called “Jim Crow.” Another way, the white southerners denied voting rights to Black Americans was by inventing whites-only primaries and polls. Because of this discrimination against Blacks, that was the main reason why they didn’t have much votes. While blacks as a group are less likely than whites to register and vote, since 1984 black women have registered and voted in proportions equal to white men. In fact, black women are more likely than men or whites generally to have political attitudes that contribute to voting participation.
Women, meanwhile, had to fight until 1920 for the right to vote in federal elections. Although women had gained the right to vote in some state or local elections earlier, in 1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally outlawed any laws that denied women from voting. This amendment encouraged women to propose an amendment that would guarantee equal right for them, but unfortunately in was rejected by the Congress. In 1973, Congress approved the Equal Right Amendment but it failed by three states to get the three-fourths majority it required for ratification. Unto this day, women are still a long way from political equality with men. Until recently, many women didn’t vote because they did not see voting as part of their proper role in the society. Even though, they are underrepresented in political office, their vote is very powerful. Statistics show that women are more supportive than men for the poor, minorities, children, and the elderly. The last major increase in voting rights occurred in 1971 when the 26th Amendment gave voting rights to adults aged eighteen and older. The expanded right to vote is intended to make elections fairer.
The civil rights movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s insisted the re-establishment of black voting rights. The Voting Right Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination in voting and registration, accomplished this goal. This act was passed to protect the voting rights of blacks and members of other minority groups. Under this act, people who attempted to deny these rights were punished. Some states required voters to pass literacy tests, but the Voting Rights Act of 1965, disqualified literacy tests and other voter qualification devices. In fact, it required that ballots be printed in two languages in areas where many people speak English as their second language. This act has been renewed in 1970, 1975, and 1982, and extended to the year of 2007. As soon as the Voting Rights Act was passed, federal examiners conducted a voter registration and to their surprise, the black voter turnout rose dramatically. For example, in 1965, the state of Mississippi went from a voting rate of 6.7 to 74.2 in 1988. As you can see, the Voting Rights Act has been one of the most effective pieces of civil rights passed by the Congress.
Until recently, suffrage was denied to everybody but white men. Blacks, in particular, and women, black and white, were excluded. Native Americans, for the most part, could not vote until the twentieth century. Asian Americans were excluded by keeping them in a suspended state to deny them citizenship and the right to vote.
As a result of the struggles to gain the right to vote by those who were denied this privilege, today almost everybody has the right to vote. All native born or U.S. citizen over the age of 18 with the exception of convicted felons has the right to vote. Although women and blacks remain underrepresented, voting patterns and recent gains suggest that the future will bring greater numbers of women and blacks into political office and that women will continue to vote at higher rates than men.
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